‘Affluenza’ makes us sick
Once upon a time, a child woke from an operation and groggily asked for their parents. Now, many children wake and ask for their smartphone.
Once upon a time many parents spent time with their children kicking balls and ideas. Now, many parents work like slaves to fund the latest smartphone, flat-screen TV or latest marketing necessity. The gap between ‘‘want’’ and ‘‘need’’ is growing at an alarming rate and it is making many of us sick.
Debt piles on as we seek instant gratification and reward. The latest sales and no deposit, no interest deals lure us into the trap of spending more than we earn. In my view, children and loved ones remember more the experience, such as a walk in the bush, rather than the latest gadget (which is quickly outdated and replaced with even smarter technology).
The cost of working longer hours to fuel this incessant need for the latest and greatest is significant. We are not getting happier, but unhappier.
Like cocaine and heroin, shopping for things we don’t need or don’t use is addictive and satisfies our dopamine pathway before we want the next fix. Marketing has known this for a long time and targets children and the vulnerable at every turn. A recent trip to the movies with the family left us saturated with ads about saturated fats and sugar fixes that would make us supposedly happier, but definitely not healthier. A friend bought me a protein bar stacked with essential nutrients but loaded with more than double my daily sugar requirement.
There is a name for this illness – Affluenza. It’s even the name of a book. It makes sense to me as a doctor and I wonder if it will, in fact, be recognised as a disease. There are even support groups such as Debtors Anonymous to recognise and treat our compulsion for buying stuff that we don’t need and can’t afford. We and many of our children are hooked.
A friend’s recent Facebook post bemoaning the fact one could not get the latest and greatest gadget generated a string of ‘‘that it is terrible’’ and ‘‘how awful’’ comments. War in Syria is terrible, Motor Neurone Disease is awful – not getting the latest and greatest is at best inconvenient.
I don’t want to sound apocalyptic and I’m not about to discard my smartphone for a landline. Of course, many of us just may have a mild case of Affluenza. But like any addiction or pathological process that can affect our health and wellbeing it’s important to recognise it. There are children who still ask for their parents and parents who kick balls and, in doing so, kick the malaise of consumerism to touch.
With Christmas and Boxing Day sales, it has been the Affluenza season. Unwittingly, I only bought one present for each family member last Christmas: a normal departure from showering them with gifts. It saved me time and money and no one called me a scrooge (that I know of).
I know it won’t be easy to change a life of consumer behaviour but this year I will start asking myself more, ‘‘Do I really need that? Will it impact on my wellbeing if I have to earn more money and work more hours to pay interest?’’ It will be an interesting ride and maybe trading that latest gadget for a walk in the bush is a better option. Dr Tom Mulholland is an Emergency Department Doctor and GP with over 25 years’ experience in New Zealand. He’s currently a man on a mission, tackling health missions around the world.